Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 20, 2012

Unfinished portrait

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

January 20, 2012

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts

Director: Clint Eastwood

Regarded as one of the most controversial figures in recent US history, the late J Edgar Hoover gets shortchanged with a surprisingly dull biopic from director Clint Eastwood, who appears to have come up with a new cure for insomnia with this deathly boring epic.

J Edgar stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, but the actor plays him with a distracting clipped accent, his face often buried under layers of unconvincing old-age makeup. It’s an earnest performance by a committed actor. But DiCaprio’s take on Hoover, who spent roughly 40 years as Director of the FBI, doesn’t have the same spark as his portrayal of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

The blame for that must be shared with Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) whose self-serious script employs that familiar structure of an important man looking back on his life. In this case, it’s Hoover in his seventies, as he dictates his memoirs, prompting a series of flashbacks to key moments of his life. He details his rise through the Department of Justice to head the newly created FBI, his crusades against gangsters, Communists and radicals, and his manipulations of politicians through his extensive collection of secret files on every powerful person in DC.

Eastwood’s film, however, merely scratches the surface of Hoover’s professional achievements and transgressions, choosing instead to focus on his relationships…with his domineering mother (Judi Dench), his lifelong secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and with his second-in-command at the FBI – and his lover – Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Anyone looking for greater insight into Hoover’s personality, or his evolution as a political force will have to look elsewhere.

It doesn’t help that the story unfolds as a series of confusing flashbacks within flashbacks, and the secondary players are delivering impressions rather than performances. The sad truth is that more effort appears to have been spent designing the period look and feel for this story than on character development and narrative. As a result, J Edgar feels like a half-baked meal, a disappointment from one of modern cinema’s great master filmmakers.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar. Watch it for DiCaprio’s earnest performance; watch it also to see how an opportunity has been lost.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. Hmmmm….how about my underworld review !!? 🙂

    underworld has always been one of my favorite series,loved the previous 3 installment.the reason behind it is its always served with the proper balance of style and substance.there was always some good story behind,specially Underworld: Rise of the Lycans had some great love story.underworld Awakening is not only about Vampires and Lycans,it tries to go further and involves the humans this time,with some little twists it doesn’t have much to tell,story is missing.but the good news is u wont feel that something is missing because of its non-stop crispy action.underworld has its own brand-action.stylish/over the top moves gives u the feel of video game.if you are lover of an action flick and do not care much about whys and hows…this is the movie you just cant miss!!

    Comment by Jignesh — January 21, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

  2. DiCaprio Fails this time….

    Comment by Ravi — January 22, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  3. As per usual, you have given a review to a film as per your movie-geek way.
    I m going to watch it anyway for Leo. another plus pt being Eastwood. Hope I find you wrong.

    Comment by Mihir — January 24, 2012 @ 10:27 pm

  4. Leonardo dicaprio is my third top most actor for his splendid performance.
    bt after read ur review i’m just confused i’m not watch this movie still i hope i will find u wrong.

    Comment by naishal dave — January 27, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  5. I think it was a well done movie…though a tad slow paced. I only wish they could do justice to the man. I liked the way they handled his sexual hypocrisy.

    Comment by PKTight — January 27, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

  6. This movie was great! Much better than the descendants which you gave 4 stars to.

    Comment by Rishabh Bhasin — January 28, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

  7. Snarkity snark snark snark.Shut up.I didn’t buy DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator ’cause I thought he was erilnety too young for the role. Now a few years later, Leo’s filled out physically and got some gravitas to him. From this trailer, he looks good as J. Edgar.All you rainbow flag wavers, forget about a full-on, man-to-man kiss between Edgar and Tolson. All you’ll get is the hand-holding in the car. This is still America.Vivian Vance, though? LOLI haven’t really liked this run of Eastwood flicks (with the exception of Gran Torino; set in an alternate-universe Detroit where there are lots of Cambodians WTF?), but as a history fan, I’ll be checking this out.

    Comment by Ajay — May 18, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

  8. If we are basing our Oscar polsibisities solely off of the trailer, I would tend to disagree. And for this reason: You cannot watch this trailer and see DiCaprio without seeing the exact same performance in Shutter Island, The Aviator, Inception, and Blood Diamond. Unfortunately, IMO, he has started to become rather static in his performances. The characters are highly interchangeable.That is what will keep him and possibly the film, from getting an Oscar. It’s too familair based solely on the trailer. I think that’s one reason why he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor last time, because his Inception character was highly reminiscent of his Shutter Island character.TheScarletSp1der recently posted..

    Comment by Faisal — May 18, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

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